Pace it off (or why pacing is important in storytelling)

When you are writing, one of the most important factors to note is pace. That is the balance between action-packed sequences and more slow-moving explorative sequences. There’s no perfect recipe — it depends a lot on the type of story you’re writing — but you’re expected to somehow find the right balance. If you’re writing an action-packed novel and you don’t slow down the pace every now and then, you risk overwhelming your audience. If you’re writing some romance and it’s all talk and long introspection scenes with no action, you risk having your audience fall asleep by chapter 10.

Think of it this way: even if you’re writing a thriller, or a high-octane action novel, you will need breathing space. It’s the same with movies and TV shows or any other media — your audience needs to take a breath every now and then. Sure, it’s good to keep them on the edge or their seats, biting their nails and holding their breath, but if you don’t let them take in a breath every now and then … well, they’ll all have suffocated before act two begins. That’s why, in films, you often have a sex scene where basically nothing happens thrown in between two battles (and also that boosts sales, apparently), or some comic relief, or something. Well, you must think along the same lines when you write.

If you struggle with the concept, think of the movie Matrix and the Merovingian’s words, “It’s all about cause and effect”. Character-wise, we could say it’s all about action and reaction. You need to allow a character to react emotionally to a scene’s outcome.

No matter what you throw at them, no matter what they’ll have to go through, you need to give them time to react to the events (unless your main character is a robot, with no feelings, no conscience and no soul).

  • Your character has to kill someone — he will probably feel a little badly about it, even if the dead guy’s a scum.
  • Your character has to go through seven kinds of hell to retrieve a precious artefact and survives to tell the tale — he will probably be a little banged up and need some TLC.
  • Your character looses the woman he loves in some big bad-ass explosion that wipes out half of the city — he will most likely shed a tear or two even if he’s played by Sylvester Stallone.

Cause and effect — action and reaction.

Why is this important, you ask? As I said before: for pace and more importantly to get your readers to care about your characters. You need to show us that they are humans too.

In writing, those reactions parts are called sequels. It’s what follows a scene. And a story normally works a bit like that: scene – sequel – scene – sequel – scene – sequel – … Yes, you can build your whole book like that. But you have to try to be smooth about it, otherwise your story gets predictable. And, don’t let the reactions overcome the actions. Remember, you have to find the right balance; the right pace.


Pace out!
– Cristelle